Eskom to push ahead with nuclear despite proposed delay

Cape Town – Eskom said it would publish its 9.6 GW nuclear plant request for proposals within the next six weeks, despite a new proposal that new nuclear energy should only start coming online in 2037.

This came as the Department of Energy (DoE)’s draft update to the Integrated Resource Plan 2010-2030 (IRP) caught the pro-nuclear sector off-guard on Tuesday, while others questioned the assumptions used in the plan.

“It is very important for us to go into the market so that we are able to go back to give cabinet what the best rollout is, including localisation, (and) including the funding options,” Matshela Koko, Eskom’s group executive for generation, told media at Parliament. “It’s quite important that we do that, otherwise, we keep guessing.”

The IRP proposal, which sees 25 821 MW of nuclear coming online between 2037 and 2050 in the base case, will undergo a public participation process. The DoE hopes this process will be concluded at the end of February and that a plan be submitted to cabinet for sign off by March 2017.

READ: Energy battle set as nuclear delay on cards - as it happened

This gives Koko an opportunity to argue his case for nuclear to be implemented urgently to combat a carbon-free power grid.

“The real debate we will have is the one that says: “Do you have a carbon budget or not?” And if the answer is yes, then you will need a reactor operational by 2025,” he said.

“To have a nuclear reactor operating in 2025, you need a 10-year lead time, which will start now. Otherwise you will end up in a situation where you were when we ended up in load shedding.”

Asked what will happen if the promulgated IRP retains the proposal that nuclear only goes live in 2037, Koko referred to Eskom’s 2008 request for proposals on nuclear, which it eventually ditched.

“Then we are back to the 2008 scenario where you slow it down and you stop. We won’t hesitate to do that because we have done it in the past. We started it and we didn’t like the numbers – they were too expensive and we stopped it.”

Asked by a journalist if Eskom is going “hell for leather” on nuclear, Koko replied: “Not at all”.

While the plan was to seek 9 600 MW of nuclear energy through the request for proposals, he said: "We have always said that we will build in chunks that we can afford.”

“We are not married to it (nuclear). It must make sense to the country. We must be able to afford it. It must be able to decarbonise the country. It must be able to meet and check all the boxes.”

READ: SA slows nuclear plans as rating reviews loom

Koko’s message to South Africans regarding nuclear was: “Be dispassionate about it. Take the politics out of it and just consider it on its merit – that’s all that I am asking.”

Democratic Alliance MP Gordon Mackay dismissed Eskom’s view.

“Eskom’s view that nuclear should be procured as soon as possible should be taken in light of the public protector's report on state capture and the implications regarding the Eskom board,” he told Fin24.

“The DoE retains the responsibility of energy planning within SA. Any attempts by Eskom to usurp that role should be strongly objected.”

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